Quetta to Taftan
We had such a good time in Pakistan. We made so many new friends and ate so much good food that we were getting too comfortable, but all good things must come an end especially while travelling like this. It was really hard saying goodbye to all of our friends, but time was running out as our visas were about to expire. We were advised by a lot of people to take the train to Quetta instead of taking a bus, for fear of it being attacked by rebels at the tribal areas. Following their advice we took the train from Lahore to Quetta. I really enjoy riding on trains, but this journey will be remembered for the rest of my life! A journey that was supposed to take 24 hours was delayed up to 38 hours. At Jacobabad the train stopped for about 6 hours, after the previous train was attacked by rebels. Soldiers boarded the train at Jacobabad all the way to Quetta to ensure the safety of passengers. After spending 2 nights on the train we arrived at Quetta in sub zero temperatures. We then rode to town in search for accommodation. In town there were many police and military check posts complete with sandbags and barbed wires. Quetta is notorious for killings and kidnappings. There have been many stories of tourists/aid workers getting kidnapped, so we were told not to wander the streets during the night. Luckily for us, there was a tikka shop opposite our hotel or we would have no dinner that night. Even during dinner or walking on the streets we got a few angry stares by the Balochis. We didn’t even bother to take pictures of the town as we did not want to attract unnecessary attention.
The following day we boarded a bus for the final stretch of Pakistan. The journey from Quetta to Taftan was about 600km and took 12 hours. We had to register ourselves at various police/army check-posts and once the police were alerted of our presence they assigned an armed escort for the rest of the journey. All throughout the night I was thinking to myself whether this one policeman was enough to protect 30 passengers. If a party of 6 armed bandits were to ambush our bus we would be sitting ducks, for sure. We reached Taftan town at about 4am in total darkness and the only place opened was a restaurant where we had a quick bite (pratha) and ‘chai’ while we waited for sunrise and for the border to open. According to my Macau friend, Gordon, Lonely Planet described Taftan as ‘hell on earth’ and that description was not far off with just a few buildings and mostly barren wasteland. It really was a depressing place to be in. Checking out of Pakistan was easy, and after an hour we were done with Iranian immigrations and customs. After confirming that we only have 14 days on our visa, we decided to board a bus to Tehran.
So a short summary of our cycling in Pakistan. It is a bit more relaxed than India (trunk roads). On the trunk roads it was quite safe to cycle on the shoulder, but can be very bumpy, and also with hundreds of miles of farmland there is not much scenery. Bus drivers drive like they own the road, but they will honk to alert you. In the city, it is chaotic with the auto rickshaws and motorbikes. It can be dangerous when the auto-rickshaws just cut in without giving signal and just grind to a halt.
More on Iran in my next post.